Soccer

Why Brandi Chastain thinks Kate Markgraf was right choice for USWNT GM

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USATSI

Why Brandi Chastain thinks Kate Markgraf was right choice for USWNT GM

Brandi Chastain and Kate Markgraf know each other well.

That’s to be expected of two of the most-capped players in United States Women’s National Team history, and of two women who played alongside one another in one of the most memorable games in American soccer history. Chastain and Markgraf played every minute of the 1999 World Cup Final at the Rose Bowl, and Chastain’s goal in the penalty shootout clinched the USWNT’s second World Cup win.

Twenty years later, Markgraf is leading the USWNT into its future. U.S. Soccer hired her as the team’s general manager last week, and Chastain thinks her former teammate is the right woman for the job.

“I'm very optimistic about her position and the changes and the influences that she'll have,” Chastain told NBC Sports Bay Area last week on behalf of Clover Sonoma’s “Strong Inside” campaign.

Markgraf, 42, will be tasked with leading the search for and hiring the next USWNT manager after Jill Ellis announced last month she would step down from the position. Ellis faced criticism for her tactical decisions, but became just the second coach to win consecutive World Cups when the USWNT lifted the trophy a month ago in France.

Chastain said that the talent pool has never been deeper, and pointed to breakout USWNT star Rose Lavelle as “a player that we can build a team around.” But what kind of team Lavelle leads is anyone’s guess, as many aspects of the next Olympic and World Cup cycle are true unknowns until a new manager is in place.

“[It’s] a big question with a lot of variables and without having leadership there, it will be hard to say what the next young players are because we don't know what style we're playing,” Chastain said. “We don't know what our philosophy is going to be. We don't know what our focus will be.”

The USWNT will in due time, but it was clear that Chastain and Markgraf were on the same page about some of U.S. Soccer’s broader goals. Although she had not yet spoken to her former teammate at the time of our interview, Chastain echoed Markgraf in identifying U.S. Soccer’s need to prioritize and streamline development.

Last week, Markgraf told reporters it would be her “whole focus” to do so. That covers a range of initiatives, including continuing to support NWSL -- which is managed by U.S. Soccer -- and also overseeing the youth national team setup.

Along those lines, Chastain thinks Markgraf is well-equipped to improve the sport’s accessibility in underserved and underprivileged communities. Five of the 23 USWNT players to make the trip to France were women of color, and the costs of entering soccer’s pipeline to colleges -- and, eventually, the pro ranks -- often are prohibitive for families outside of wealthy suburbs.

“I think she's been watching other countries around the world and their coming-of-age in women's soccer, and how much they have been influenced by opportunity,” Chastain said. “... I feel that she's seen the growth of women's soccer on a global scale that could potentially influence how we look for players here in this country, and who do we value and how do we value [them].”

[RELATED: How Chastain still inspires 20 years after iconic goal]

Markgraf, who has not served as a general manager before, will have to make these decisions in the shadow of the USWNT’s gender discrimination lawsuit. Mediation between the players and U.S. Soccer broke down late last week, just days after Markgraf’s hiring. The legal fight might not affect on-field performance -- the USWNT won the World Cup four months after suing U.S. Soccer, after all -- but the two sides appear headed to federal court.

Two decades ago, Markgraf’s relative inexperience didn’t show en route to a World Cup crown. And if you ask Chastain, her former teammate won’t show any in her new position, either.

Sheffield United shocks Chelsea with unlikely David McGoldrick goals

Sheffield United shocks Chelsea with unlikely David McGoldrick goals

The Premier League hasn't had many surprises since Leicester City lifted the trophy in 2016, let alone compelling ones.

Sheffield United and David McGoldrick are making up for lost time.

They jumped up to sixth place Saturday, thanks to a 3-0 win over third-place Chelsea at Bramall Lane. McGoldrick scored not once, but twice, ending a 27-game league scoring drought.

The Irish striker opened the scoring in the 18th minute, slotting a rebound past Kepa moments after the Chelsea goalkeeper sprawled to save a deflected shot. McGoldrick sealed Sheffield United's victory in the 77th, giving the Blades a 3-0 advantage after pouncing on the Blues' failed clearance.

Should Sheffield United maintain their place after Wolves' match against Everton on Sunday, the Blades will have the inside track to a UEFA Europa League place and an outside shot at one in the Champions League.

Not bad for a club playing in England's third division just over three years ago.

Sheffield United hadn't been in the Premier League since being relegated in 2007, earning promotion to England's top flight after finishing second in the Championship last year. The Blades have been on an upward trajectory since hiring Chris Wilder in 2016, winning a trophy, earning promotion or both in two of the last three seasons.

Promoted Premier League sides as recently as least season, when Wolves made it to the Europa League. Sheffield United, however, spent far less than Wolves and the rest of their top-flight counterparts. Only Southampton and recently relegated Norwich City have a lower net-spend than Sheffield United over the last five seasons, according to Transfermarkt.

Wilder's innovative 3-5-2 system has done wonders for Sheffield United, and the Blades have done very well against some of the Premier League's best sides. They've now beaten or drawn with each of the league's "Big Six" sides, aside from the last two champions: Liverpool and Manchester City.

With 54 points, Sheffield United already have ensured their best-ever point total in the Premier League. Adding their first-ever appearance in European competition would be quite a way for the Blades to commemorate their return to the English top flight, and McGoldrick is one of many unlikely heroes who could become club legends.

Chelsea lineup: Christian Pulisic starts on wing vs. Sheffield United

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Chelsea lineup: Christian Pulisic starts on wing vs. Sheffield United

American star Christian Pulisic is becoming a fixture in Chelsea manager Frank Lampard's starting XI.

Pulisic once again will start against Sheffield United on Saturday, earning his fifth consecutive start of the resumed Premier League season.

Even as the Blues have signed or been linked to some of Europe's most promising attackers, Pulisic has been an undeniable presence for Chelsea. The 21-year-old has scored or assisted in every single match since the Premier League season restarted last month, and his eight goals in the league this season are double his previous career high.

Pulisic and Chelsea will have their hands full Saturday at Bramall Lane, as Sheffield United have beaten two rivals for European places -- Tottenham Hotspur and Wolves -- in each of their last two matches. Nine points separate the Blues (60 points) and the Blades (51), but the latter will move to sixth in the table with a victory Saturday.

Here's how Sheffield United will line up.

The match kicks off at 12:30 p.m. ET/9:30 a.m. PT on NBCSN.